Archive for the Personal Category

My iPhone Gripes part II

While I’m pretty sure no one cares, here’s a new list of my gripes with the iPhone. I did one of these in 2011 when I switched from the iPhone 3GS to the Samsung Galaxy S2 (still one of my favourite phones).

Since then I’ve been through a couple more Samsung Galaxies (S3 and S4) before switching camps and trying out a Microsoft Lumia 640 running Windows Mobile 8.1 followed by Windows 10.

I was very surprised by how much I liked using Windows Phone and in particular I thought the “launcher” (i.e. the home screen, app drawer and icons/widgets) was significantly better than the Android and iOS equivalents. I liked it so much that I was seriously considering buying the new flagship Lumia 950 but then I got a new job which came with a company supplied iPhone 6S+.

While the iPhone 6S+ wasn’t quite what I’d have chosen for myself, I was still pretty pleased to get the top of the line model of one of the best smartphones on the market and I was curious to see how the iPhone and iOS had developed in the last 5 years. What I didn’t expect was that it would be so damn annoying. In no particular order:

  1. Apps seem to freeze or crash more than I’m used to, particularly when they’re trying and failing to update their data (e.g. Twitter and Scrabble).
  2. The built-in keyboard still doesn’t support swiping. “Hey”, you say, “iOS supports third party keyboards now!”. Unfortunately it doesn’t support them very well, with some parts (like search) still using the built-in keyboard, and other applications seeming to randomly switch between them. Adding insult to injury, Microsoft has released their excellent Flow keyboard for iOS – but not in New Zealand. (Update: Google Gboard keyboard is pretty good.)
  3. The iPhone 6S+ has bad physical design. It’s far too slippery. The rounded edges make it hard to pick up from a flat surface. The buttons still have unpleasant sharp edges. The camera is off-centre which means that it jiggles when you try to use it on a desk. It’s the first phone I’ve ever felt obliged to get a case for to overcome the flaws in the physical design (I note that the Apple leather case is very nice and helps with a number of these gripes).
  4. Related to this is that it’s surprisingly heavy, both in absolute terms and when you compare it to other phones with similar sized screens from other vendors. Compare the iPhone 6S+ with a 5.5″ screen at 192g to the Lumia 950XL with a 5.7″ screen at 165g or the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with 5.5″ at 157g. I really notice the extra weight when reading in bed, and it makes me wish I’d got the iPhone 6S instead.
  5. I haven’t been impressed by the battery life which, in such a heavy phone, should be pretty awesome. I think it’s worse than my last couple of phones but that’s pretty subjective. Annoyingly you can’t carry a spare battery and just swap it in (a feature becoming less popular in Android and Windows phones too). There’s also still no wireless charging.
  6. At NZ$1599 for an iPhone 6S+ with 64GB, damn it’s expensive.
  7. The use of a proprietary Lightning connector for charging means that it uses a different connector from pretty well every other device we own that all use micro-USB (camera, tablet, UE Boom speaker, Kim’s phone, etc). It got even worse when Kim upgraded to a Nexus 5X with USB-C – suddenly we had three connectors to support. On the other hand, at least USB-C seems likely to be the standard of the future, the Lightning connector is always going to be an orphan for which the cables cost significantly more than the other options.
  8. As mentioned earlier, the camera is in the wrong location right up in one corner. Yes folks, it’s the return of the “finger in shot” screw-ups. How come the rest of the industry has worked out that cameras belong in the middle but Apple still seems unaware?
  9. The home-screen/launcher feels like it’s hardly developed since my iPhone 3GS. Yep, it’s still just a bunch of icons. There’s still no widgets or live tiles for quick display of relevant information. The design guidelines seem to encourage making icons look as like each other as possible. You can’t even arrange them spatially except between pages – gaps aren’t allowed and they always autofill the available space. As for multi-page folders, I have no idea what they were thinking with that one.
  10. The Settings app is big and sprawly and really needs a good rethink. I scrolled through five screen pages worth of top level setting items and it’s just too much.
  11. Apple – I don’t care whether you rip off the notifications and quick settings design from Microsoft or Google, just choose one and get copying. Special mention: it seems very odd that I can’t force-touch or long-press the bluetooth and wifi icons in the settings slide-up to get to the settings for those functions.
  12. I really miss the back button. Every app does it its own way and sometimes they have both “back to the calling app” and “back within this app” – naturally I always get the wrong one. Even worse some apps seem to have no back at all so once you’ve acitvated them from another, the only way to get back is to use the task switcher. I’m prepared to admit that the back button on Android and Windows Phone isn’t always perfect but I’d rather have an imperfect one than none at all.
  13. There’s even more use of popup hidden UI elements than since the last time I griped about it in 2010. E.g. in Safari you don’t get any controls unless you jiggle the page the right way. Many apps are implementing swiping left or right to reveal hidden UI elements, but they’re both hard to discover and inconsistent between apps.
  14. I assumed that with Apple having such a large market share and only one supported browser that everyone would ensure their mobile web pages worked in Safari. Apparently not.
  15. I wish I could work out the magic that would let the iPhone consistently reconnect to my phone headset whenever it’s in range.
  16. Bluetooth control options aren’t very flexible. You can’t tell the iPhone that you want to use a bluetooth UE Boom 2 speaker for music but not for phone calls or notification sounds.
  17. The Search often seems to freeze up for 5-15 seconds between entering search terms and the “Search the Web” button being displayed. It’s very odd.
  18. When the iPhone screen is off there’s no way to tell if there’s any messages or other important notifications waiting for you. There’s no notification light, nor a Windows Phone style low-power always-on Glance screen with time/date/notifications.
  19. I have tried more than once to use Siri and we just don’t understand each other. Come back Cortana!
  20. The screen rotation settings don’t seem quite right. Sometimes it triggers too easily, sometimes not easily enough. I miss the hack I had on one of my Android phones where I could enable screen rotation for some apps (e.g. video and photos) but not others.
  21. Internet connection sharing works well – but apparently it’s such a critically important function that Apple has to add a blinking bar at the top to constantly warn you that you have it enabled. Even worse, this bar doubles the height of the top bar so that some applications don’t quite display properly.
  22. The multi-tasking is pretty shocking. You can’t keep a network client connected (e.g. IRC), apps have to be left active to download data (e.g. offline maps and music), many apps are very slow at updating their notification badges, and apps don’t keep in sync with their notifications (i.e. the badge shows there is a message but when you go into the app it shows no new messages until it refreshes).
  23. You can’t replace standard apps with others if you prefer Google Maps to Apple Maps, or Chrome to Safari. Indeed, there’s a general feeling that Apple applications and services are first class citizens and Apple wants to make everyone else’s stuff just run that little bit worse.

(Yes, this article is just an attempt to get everyone to tell me ways to fix all my gripes and thereby improve my iPhone experience.)

My advice for new parents

My daughter is now three years old and she’s amazing. Naturally I now know everything there is to know about parenting so here’s my advice for new parents (particularly aimed at affluent middle-class fathers in NZ who have two cats).

The first three months are the hardest, followed by the next three months. The three months after that were also hard but then it started to get easier and more enjoyable. (Even if it was still a lot of work.) I’m writing this just after my daughter turned three – she’s still hard work but I adore her absolutely and we have quite a lot of fun together.

It doesn’t matter how you feel about becoming a father or whether you wanted the baby or not. Decide now to commit to doing the best job you can and being the best father you can be. Any of the alternatives aren’t going to be good for anyone.

You will never go back to your “normal life”. This is your normal life, embrace it.

Go to the ante-natal classes. Go to the breastfeeding course. Yes, both of you.

Forgive your partner already and ask for their forgiveness in turn. I see that relationships are built on loving reciprocity. You do something for your partner because you love them, they feel even more warmly to you and do things for you because they love you. It’s a beautiful spiral of loving caring – and the introduction of a young baby screws it up pretty badly. You’re both exhausted and have very little time to look after each other and little energy to give. But you’re both doing your best and there’ll be time in the future to reconnect. That said, give your partner what you can when you can.

Don’t worry if you don’t get an instant hit of love and adoration when your child is born. It was pretty amazing on a number of levels but for me the bonding process took time. That said – make sure you’re leaving yourself open to it. Don’t let the sleeplessness and hard work turn you resentful and closed.

Get stuck in – don’t let your uncertainty or doubt hold you back from doing everything that your child requires. We all had to change our first nappy or give our first bath. Don’t let anyone else disenfranchise you by doing someone on your behalf that you can do perfectly well yourself. Don’t be the father who doesn’t want to be left alone with his own child because he’s too scared to care for them.

Question what you think you know. You probably have all sorts of ideas on how kids should be raised based on what your parents did, what your friends do and that half-remembered show you saw on TV. Do your whole family a favour and do some reading about the best way to bring up a kid. In particular learn about what real normal child development looks like (bad news: “sleeping through the night” doesn’t happen as soon or as consistently as you’d like). This article does a reasonable job of summing up the views I came to about raising a happy and healthy child.

I said it was hard work, right? Get in there and do the housework and the shopping and the errand running and taking the baby out for a walk so its mum can get just a couple of hours sleep. No matter how hard you work it probably won’t be as tough as it is for the mum who’s staying up most of the night breast-feeding the baby to sleep.

Your baby won’t give a shit about whether it has a beautiful nursery.

Non-specialist doctors and pharmacists are generally pretty ignorant about pregnancy, infants and breast-feeding. Do your own research – but make sure it’s from reputable websites that are backed by the best and latest in medical science. Bookmark http://kellymom.com for great evidence-based information about the care and feeding of babies and their mothers.

Using a clip-on bed is a good compromise between using a cot and having the baby in bed with you. This is where you have a separate sleeping surface for the baby attached to your bed so that you can both care for the baby in the night without having to get up. Our daughter went from the clip-on bed straight to her own bed without any problems at about 14 months. Her bed is a double mattress on a base and it’s been absolutely brilliant. It means that either of us can sleep with her on her bed if we ever need to (it also fits the two cats as well).

Get a tablet computer with good battery life for those long nights where that damn baby just won’t sleep unless it’s on someone. Block access to Trade Me if your budget won’t allow it.

Don’t let your duties (paid work, housework, maintenance, etc) take away from your time spent at home looking after your child and supporting your partner. It can be tempting to avoid the stress at home by saying “Oh, I need to do this” but your #1 priority at this time should be your family.

You need a lot less stuff than the glossy brochures would tell you that you need. And do you really need a baby buggy at all? We never really used them, preferring front-packs and back-packs and good old fashioned carrying.

Parent the child you have. Keep an eye on the expected milestones but ultimately you have to care for your child as it is, not the ideal child you have in your head, not your friend’s child, and not what some book has told you to expect.

Parenting is hard work but the first time you get a big cuddle and an “I love you Daddy” from your child – oh. my. god.

 

The Fish’n’Chip Diet

Fat and Slim

I was fat from about age 10 to about age 26. It made me unhappy in a number of ways; buying clothes, avoiding swimming in public or just failing to laugh much at the man-boob jokes. I came to think of myself as a fat person, that there was no way I would ever be anything else.

Then I lost a lot of weight. I dropped from ~115kg to 75kg in the space of six months. More importantly, after bouncing back to 80kg I managed to stay at roughly that weight for well over ten years.

Recently I found that my weight was creeping up again and I decided that I had to do something about it. I’d got to 89kg and I decided that I wanted to lose 10kg – and that if I was successful I’d finally write that article about weight loss that I’d been planning.

Easy and Hard

There’s a funny contradiction involved when it comes to losing weight:

  1. Weight loss is actually reasonably easy. Eat less and maybe do a bit of exercise and you’ll lose weight.
  2. Weight loss is incredibly hard. Most diets are abandoned, many dieters yo-yo and end up weighing more than they started, long term weight loss seems particularly hard to achieve.

The problem is that deciding to lose weight isn’t a single decision. Sure, you can get up in the morning and say to yourself “From now on I’m going to eat better and be more healthy”.  But we all know that while this might last for a day, a week, or even just a few hours, generally you’ll start to slip back into your old habits.

The problem with weight loss, and what makes it so incredibly hard, is that it’s not one decision but hundreds and thousands of decisions. Yes to porridge for breakfast. No to the slice of birthday cake at morning tea. Yes to sushi for lunch. No to pizza for dinner. Yes to a cup of tea in the evening. No to the biscuits to dunk in the tea. Day after day after day.

The Trick

So, I reckon you need a trick. Or maybe more than one. What do I mean by a trick?

The time I lost a lot of weight didn’t start as a diet, it was just an experiment in a line of experiments.

I’d tried going saltless for a couple of weeks and found that I enjoyed many foods without additional salt. I fasted for three days just to see what it felt like (oddly, it gets easier). I even had a week of eating nothing but spaghetti with tomato chutney sauce and cheese.

I had read that you could reset your appetite so my next experiment would be to have three small meals a day – and nothing else. Just to see what it was like. Looking back on it now, I honestly can’t remember how much I had fooled myself about this not being an attempt to lose weight.

I didn’t weigh myself to start, nor did I weigh myself as I went (I didn’t own any scales). Instead I just started following this eating regime – and I found that I quite quickly started to lose weight.

So the trick in this case was that I wasn’t dieting at all, I was performing experiments on myself. Totally different. Best of all, it meant that I couldn’t indulge in the self-destructive behaviour of wanting to rebel against my own decision, something I still hadn’t grown out of at the time.

Obsession

I’m not sure if that particular trick could have got me all the way, particularly as the weight started to come off and I could no longer fool myself that losing weight wasn’t the point of what I was doing. Somehow I managed to transition to a second trick – I got really, really obsessive.

  • I refused all food outside the three meals a day I allowed myself. While I tried to be polite about it, that meant being completely ruthless about turning down celebration food (birthday cakes, etc), gift food (box of chocolates) or even just social food (cake at a café with a friend). Sometimes I let people assume I was allergic or had some other nameless health issue that prevented me from eating with them.
  • I thought about food a lot – what I’d eaten, what I was eating, what I was going to eat, whether it would be acceptable or not.
  • I learnt to enjoy the sensation of hunger and saw it as a sign that I was winning and in control of my body and myself.

This is probably setting off little warning bells in anyone familiar with eating disorders. Looking back on it, I think I managed to give myself a weird form of anorexia nervosa, with the main difference being that I actually was quite overweight. I also think that maybe I was just a bit lucky that I managed to stop when I did.

Other Tricks

Those are two tricks that worked for me. I’m sure there are plenty of other tricks that people have used to help themselves make those hundreds and thousands of decisions that result in a successful diet.

I used a different trick entirely when I lost my 10kg recently. The experiment trick was a once-off, and I’m not sure you can be obsessive enough while living with someone. Instead I went for something else that works for me – number-chasing.

I signed up for a calorie-counter site called MyFitnessPal.com. It calculated my daily energy requirements, I entered all the food I ate each day, and the site told me how well I was doing.

It’s not a great site in many ways, but the combination of number-chasing and being able to see exactly how much they were going to blow out if I bought that piece of carrot cake was often enough to help me make the decision to have an apple instead.

Appetite and the Fish’n’Chip Diet

But why the Fish’n’Chip Diet?

One of the important things I learnt is that weight loss is all about eating less. Exercise will only get you so far, and it seems that eating a lot of ‘good’ food is just as good a way of putting on weight as eating a lot of ‘bad’ food.

So I didn’t really change what I ate – I just changed how much I ate of it. This meant that I didn’t have to give up anything including my beloved fish’n’chips. On the other hand, I did have to change my regular order from 1 fish, 1 sausage, 1 potato fritter and a scoop of chips to 1 fish and half a scoop of chips.

Now, you may think that sounds ridiculously small but there’s good news too. My experiment to reduce my appetite was entirely successful. If you eat smaller quantities for a while your stomach will eventually reset itself. The thought of eating my old regular f’n’c order now makes me feel just a bit sick.

The Nitty Gritty

There are lots of diets out there. I suspect that most of them work – for a few people. The above is what worked for me but I wouldn’t claim it would work for everyone. That said, here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt that I reckon might be generally applicable:

  • You can lose weight. You don’t have to be fat.
  • It’s about portion control. The amount you eat is more important than what you eat.
  • You can reset your appetite so that smaller meals will make you feel sated. I reckon it took me about two weeks to reset mine… but it’s very easy to creep it up again.
  • You need a trick or two. Something that will help you keep making those correct decisions.
  • Feeling hungry when you’re still getting enough to eat isn’t really so bad.
  • You don’t need to weigh yourself regularly to lose weight. Do it if it works for you.

And one final note: if you’re happy and healthy at your current weight I reckon you’re doing better than most people and should leave well enough alone.

 

2016 Update

And then my weight started to go up again – it seemed that I was entering into a slow yo-yo phase. I came to the conclusion that if I ate “naturally” without monitoring, my weight went up. Whether this was because of a slowed metabolism from dieting, my body trying to get to a set point, or just too much appetite is something I wonder about. But the reason isn’t really the important thing.

So, back to MyFitnessPal I went. I’m doing this update on the 500th day of my streak – i.e. I’ve entered everything I’ve eaten for 500 days without a break. This has helped me get to a weight of 76kg based on a 1600kcal a day target.

I’ve loosened up a bit since then and now I’m maintaining my weight with the same calorie target, but in a typical week I meet it 3 days, go slightly over (100-200kcal) 2 days, and go a bit more over the other 2 days (up to 500-600kcal over). My exercise levels have also dropped quite a bit in the last 6 months.

Monitoring/restricting is a bit of a drag but it seems to be working for me and I prefer it to the alternative.

 

Strange Data Collection Method

I was taken aback by what I found in my post box today – a letter asking me to complete a survey about my respiratory health. The Medical Research Institute tells me that (link to scan of letter (PDF)):

You have been randomly selected from the electoral roll to participate in the first phase which involves completing the questionnaire on the other side of this letter.

Personally I thought that it was illegal to use the Electoral Roll for any purpose other than elections, but it seems that there is an exception for approved scientific/health researchers.

I’d be surprised if the response rate was very high or very representative.

And no, I didn’t fill it out. Feel free to use the code and URL on the letter to go and answer it for me.

My New Laptop

(This is another in my series of posts where I record my current feelings about technology in order to have something to laugh at in five years time. See also What I Use and Market Calibration.)

I’m getting urges for a new laptop again.

The main requirements when I got this laptop (Compaq 2510p) were:

  • Small and light-weight (it’s 1.4kg)
  • Long battery life (~6 hours)
  • Runs Windows well (it’s part of my job)

The Compaq has worked pretty well for me but my biases are changing. My new requirements are:

  • Relatively lightweight (but not so worried about small any more)
  • Backlit keyboard (I do quite a lot of writing at night but I don’t touchtype. A backlit keyboard would make both Kim and me happier.)
  • High resolution screen (at least higher than the current 1280×800)
  • Well over four hours useful battery life (i.e. I might accept four but I really want more)
  • I’d still choose battery life over performance and I’d prefer it not to have an optical drive to save weight.

And while it’s not necessary, I suspect that any laptop that meets those criteria will have one of the much cooler solid-state hard drives. They’re lighter and use less battery, plus they have no moving parts so they’re more reliable.

When it comes to the operating system, while I’d like to have a proper go using Mac OSX, Windows 7 fulfils most of my requirements and is more appropriate to my job.

Finally, it’d be nice if it looked kind of stylish, maybe even with a bit of colour.

Contenders

I recently had a play on a Dell Latitude Z600 and I have to admit it was pretty good even though it was much bigger than anything I’ve considered before. It’s thin and surprisingly light for its size. Sadly, while the 16″ screen at 1600×900 has more pixels than my current screen, you’d think they could have increased it even more. Unfortunately it costs an ungodly amount of money and I believe the battery life is apparently atrocious.

The HP Envy 13 also looks pretty good. Stylish, good screen (1600×900 is acceptable on a 13″ screen), good battery life – but no backlit keyboard.

Dell have just put out the Vostro V13 at a good price but I really don’t want to stay with a standard res screen and no keyboard backlight.

The Sony Z is rather cool. 13″ screen at 1600×900, good battery life, backlit keyboard… why not? Sadly I have absolute faith in Sony’s ability to screw it up by filling it full of crap software and failing to provide good hardware drivers. It’s a pity because otherwise I think it might be the winner.

When it comes to the Apple range, the MacBook Pro 13″ is rather nice (and the price recently dropped). It fulfils most of my requirements (except screen resolution) but the styling is looking a bit dated and I don’t trust Apple to do a good job of releasing drivers that will allow Windows 7 to work to its full potential.

As normal, I find myself wishing I could cut’n’paste features from multiple models so that I could end up with the perfect laptop!

Late addition

I ended up with the Sony Vaio Z (the high-end version with a 1920×1080 screen, 8GB memory, 256GB SSD, etc). It’s a very nice laptop but my fears that Sony would do their best to screw it up were not unfounded. It came with 9 ugly stickers as well as a whole load of badly written Sony software pre-installed. Luckily that could all be cleaned up and I’m really very happy with it.

A Status Update

Well, my blog has well and truly been taken over by Internet filtering. Things have been a bit quiet recently, so here’s an update:

  • I’m still waiting for the Ombudsman’s report on whether I can have access to the list of filtered sites.
  • I haven’t heard from Archives about the DIA deleting their records.
  • I have been persuaded to spell Internet with a capital I even though I prefer to be a little more avant garde.
  • I’m part of the Internet NZ working group developing policy on Internet filtering.
  • I’m working on collecting more information (still no response from the Maori or Act parties, waiting to hear from ISPs, have more questions to send to the DIA and the Censor).

So, what’s next? I’m thinking a lot about how to continue the campaign against Internet filtering, while also considering some of the larger issues that this raises about protecting the civil liberties of Internet users. Email me if you’ve got any ideas or what to help.

My Technology : Point in Time

The other day I was reflecting on the multitude of technological tools and services I use in the course of my day to day life. Some that seem vital to me today (e.g. Gmail) didn’t even exist a few years ago, while others that were so important to my life in the past (e.g. Usenet) I haven’t with bothered with for ages.

I thought it might be interesting to record what tools I currently use and how I use them. Ideally I could update it every year or so and thereby create a personal technological timeline.

And my first thought on looking at it? “Gosh that’s a long list.”
Continue Reading “My Technology : Point in Time” »

Kiwisaver

So, as part of signing up for a new job I’m also signing up for KiwiSaver. I’ve managed to put off learning about this for a while now but last night I finally put the time in to do a bit more reading. I knew the scheme is reputed to be generous and is generally seen to be well worth it for the individual but I needed to choose a provider and a scheme.

As my government-enforced retirement age of 65 is some years off I have chosen a growth-oriented scheme with a concentration in the share market. My understanding is that, over the long term, share markets have historically given the best returns. Of course this won’t go so well if we have an economic collapse triggered by climate change or runaway gray-goo or whatever and slide into a post-technological world – but my retirement plans are going to be in trouble if that happens anyway.

More importantly, I have chosen a ‘passive’ fund. This is one where they don’t have smart managers who wheel and deal to choose the best stocks/investments at any given time. Instead they just invest in shares/securities so that the fund tracks well-known indexes like the NZX 50. Therefore if the stock market as a whole goes up you’re winning, and vice-versa. It’s easier to manage so fees are a lot less.

Now, the interesting thing about ‘dumb’ passive funds is that they typically out-perform the ‘smart’ active funds. All that wheeling and dealing costs money (in transaction and management costs) and any increased returns are typically eaten by that. Indeed, I seem to recall that actively managed funds typically perform worse than passive funds, even *before* transaction and management costs are taken into account. Most people aren’t Warren Buffett and are apparently pretty crap at investing. Of course, the managers still get paid their lovely salaries so at least they’re happy about it.

The only major flaw in KiwiSaver (from my selfish perspective) is that the government doesn’t guarantee the investments – but also doesn’t let you spread your risk by splitting your KiwiSaver contributions between 2 or more companies. So, it looks like all my eggs will be going into the scheme run by the ASB.

Civilly Unioned Bliss

According to Statistics NZ, there were 21,500 resident couples who married last year while another 316 chose a civil union (103 male/male, 150 female/female and 63 male/female).

Those damn marriages are still winning!

Two Sort-of Animated Movies

Recently I have seen two semi-animated films for the second time – Sin City and Waking Life.

Waking Life is the sort of movie that makes me feel inarticulate just because everyone in it talks so damn much. As normal it has given me an urge to read some more philosophy, possibly starting with existentialism.

Sin City is great – I love the visual style and the brutal relentlessness of its pastiche of a script. Somehow it takes our shared understanding of the cliches of the 30s noir gangster movies, turns them all up to 11 and then adds a dash of eternal champion.

Next will be A Scanner Darkly.